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‘Vindicated’: Virginia Beach Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit with Family of Pharrell Williams’ Cousin Donovon Lynch for $3M

Virginia Beach and the family of Donovon Lynch, the cousin of international pop star and producer Pharrell Williams, have reached a $3 million settlement regarding his 2021 wrongful death.

The young man was fatally shot by a Virginia Beach police officer, which city officials originally said was justified.

Lynch’s father Wayne Lynch and attorney Justin Fairfax, announced at a news conference on Dec. 13 that the Virginia Beach City Council voted to settle with them. This move ends the federal civil lawsuit filed on March 21 in the United States District Court for Eastern District of Virginia claiming the 25-year-old’s rights were violated, WAVY reports.

Pharrell Williams and Donovon Lynch.
(L-R) Pharrell Williams and Donovon Lynch. Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images/ @pharrell/Instagram

After the decision, both parties released a joint statement:

“As we have learned more over time about the facts of that fateful night and encounter, we have come to understand that a series of unfortunate occurrences led to Donovon’s death that night – which in hindsight should never have occurred as it was later determined that neither Donovon nor the officer set in motion the events that transpired.”

“We understand that the settlement will in no way lessen the grief and loss for the Lynch family,” the statement continued. “The City’s ongoing support for its public safety personnel and its investment in officer education and technological advancements underscores the City’s commitment to providing greater transparency.”

The city and the family were never in dispute about the fact Officer Solomon Simmons shot Lynch twice on March 26, 2021. However, officials argued that Simmons was in fear for his life, which justified his use of lethal force.

The night Lynch was killed — one of the first warm nights of spring after the winter — three other shootings had taken place in the Oceanfront area, with 10 other people getting shot, and more than 100 officers were swarming the district. Lynch and a friend had stepped out of a bar around 11:30 p.m. that night, and upon seeing and hearing a massive emergency response all around them, decided to head back to where they were parked some four blocks away, his friend later said.

Darrion Marsh, Lynch’s friend who was with him as they were walking back to where their car was, told the Washington Post last year he was a few feet behind Lynch as they were walking next to some bushes bordering a parking lot when shots suddenly rang out from Simmons’ gun.

Simmons and another VBPD officer said to homicide detectives investigating the shooting Lynch was brandishing a handgun when he was shot in his thigh and torso. Marsh disputes this, saying Lynch’s gun was in his pocket.

In April, Jeff Reichert, who is a part of the family’s legal team, clarified that having a handgun did not justify him getting shot, noting the young man was legally allowed to carry a firearm, CNN reported.

During the pursuit of an indictment against Simmons, a grand jury determined the prosecution had no evidence to support criminal charges against him.

On Thursday, Dec. 15, Tiffany M. Russell, a spokesperson for the city in Virginia, said after the grand jury decided not to hold him accountable, the officer was never disciplined by the force and permitted to return to full duty.

Pharrell Williams Launches Humanrace At Selfridges
Pharrell Williams launches his Humanrace brand at Selfridges on November 25, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Nicky J Sims/Getty Images)

Williams, the “Happy” chart-topping producer and Virginia Beach native, took offense to no charges being brought up on the officer. He withdrew his Something in the Water music festival, which had been a major tourist attraction and money maker for the city, and relocated its next concert series to Washington D.C., during the 2022 Juneteenth weekend.

In a letter to the city executive of Virginia Beach, Williams shared how much he loves the people and the city, but reminded Virginia Beach City Manager Patrick Duhaney exactly why he started the festival in the first place: to ease racial tension and to promote economic development opportunities.

Lynch’s cousin wrote, “I wish the same energy I’ve felt from Virginia Beach leadership upon losing the festival would have been similarly channeled following the loss of my relative’s life.”

“The toxic energy that changed the narrative several times around the homicide of my cousin, Donovon Lynch, a citizen of Virginia, is the same toxic energy that changed the narrative around the mass murder and senseless loss of life at Building Number 2.”

“Until the gatekeepers and the powers-that-be consider the citizens and the consumer base, and no longer view the idea of human rights for all as a controversial idea …. I don’t have any problems with the city, but I realize the city hasn’t valued my proposed solutions, either,” he continued. 

His comments followed the filing of the estate’s civil lawsuit, which originally sought $50 million in damages. In it, the family contended Simmons’ use of lethal force was excessive, adding he was not trained or supervised properly. The lawyers argued in the filing the city and the VBPD operated with gross negligence resulting in their loved one’s demise.

Lynch was one of two people killed in three separate shootings that took place at the city’s Oceanfront district on March 26, 2021.

Sources say the VBPD officer failed to follow department procedure by not activating his standard-issue bodycam when responding to the incident that ended in Lynch’s demise.

Donovon Lynch’s father reacts to Virginia Beach’s settlement. (Photo: YouTube screenshot/13 News Now)

Officers said that Lynch was “brandishing a handgun at the time of the shooting,” although Simmons is thought to have been the only officer on the scene at the moment of the shooting. Lynch’s father said the University of Virginia graduate was licensed to carry and was no thug, as he says the media had painted him to be. Instead, Lynch was the owner of a security firm, calling him “an angel to everybody that came into contact with him.”

“Don is a business owner. His business is a security company, and he is legally registered and has a concealed weapons permit,” Lynch said. “The gun was not out… It could not be seen… I am wondering why he was shot.” 

The family said at the time of his death, they believed Simmons’ body camera was off on purpose.

“They can’t use that excuse. That excuse has been used way too much. … They spent $5.5 million on bodycams, and dashcams, and they are not being utilized,” Lynch expressed. “Police policy is to have them on. … The officer had time to turn it on and did not.” 

Now the two sides have achieved a resolution on the matter of civil justice for the young man’s slaying.

“The City and Lynch family have mutually reached this agreement and will move toward healing and closure,” the statement continued. “We also hope this resolution will elevate our common humanity and how we all treat each other in Virginia Beach, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and throughout our nation.”

With this settlement, Lynch, according to his father and the representative of his estate, is “vindicated.”

“Donovon is vindicated,” Wayne Lynch said. “I can smile today with confidence and peace of mind and a broken heart.”

The father thanked the city for “stepping up” and “doing the right thing.”

Wayne Lynch stated this was an important move, as it restores his son’s reputation.

“We’ve come a long way for this fight for justice for Donovon Lynch. I’m here to tell you we have justice for Donovon Lynch,” he said.

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